The most important part of the godswood was its silence, a stillness deeper even than the white, deadened world outside the walls of Winterfell and ten times as warm. Stannis could sit at midnight in the hot springs and hear nothing but the faint hiss of steam, bubbling around his extremities and the patches of frostbite he had collected on his toes and the little finger of his left hand. The snow that fell, as it had for a week now, melted against the earth before it could accumulate more than an inch and danced in the remnants of blood-red leaves around the central weirwood, white and red blurring together before his half-closed eyes.
He was startled, as he had forgotten how to be in months of marches and sieges, by a warm male voice.
It was Davos, gruff and grey, his threadbare cloak trailing on the frozen dirt behind him. Davos, still miraculously undead, who had arrived that morning, or something like to it considering the scant hours of daylight, trailed by Stark’s savage son and a vicious black wolf the size of a pony and seen for mayhaps half an hour in and amongst the muted chaos of their arrival.
As Stannis blinked the drowsiness from his eyes, Davos continued, in a voice far raspier than Stannis remembered, “Your Grace, I apologize. No one said—”
“There would be no one to tell you, Lord Hand,” Stannis murmured as Davos fell silent. “I have only scattered green boys burnt black by this damnable campaign, and none of them have a bit of sense.”
“It was never your way to keep an entire company of squires around you, sire.”
Stannis pressed the fingers of one hand against the permafrost nearest him, flexing his muscles.
“Only your Devan, whom even I could not bring myself to drag here to this pit of demons.”
“They’re very warm demons, sire.” Davos’s voice softened. “And I am glad he is not here, though I scarce think the Wall any safer than the ruins of Winterfell.”
“He is with the Lady Melisandre,” Stannis admitted. Davos swallowed but took a step closer, his good hand against the clasp of his cloak. “And Lord Snow will do what can be done to control it.”
“I must ask, sire.”
Stannis closed his eyes and tilted his head to the sky. “Why I did not bring the Red Woman with me? You would not be the first, nor the hundredth, to ask me that.”
“She did not want to come.”
Stannis’s lip twitched. “You know us better than a sensible king should want.”
“Is there sense here?” Davos’s words were underscored by a faint rustling of fabric; Stannis felt his heart thud. “If there is, forgive me, sire, but I am like to lose more fingers if I do not sit.”
The water lapped up to Stannis’s chin as Davos slid into the pool. Stannis dug the fingers of his other hand into the ground as the waves settled back into their burbling equilibrium. There were so many questions he had not yet had the time to ask—How did you pass the Wall? How much does Rickon Stark know of the world?—that nonetheless remained dead in his throat as silence fell once more.
He had drifted into a half-sleep again when something brushed his leg underwater. Stannis jerked awake to find Davos sprawling along the other side of the pool, his attention fixed on some indeterminate point above Stannis’s head, his bare chest inhaling and exhaling, slow and steady. Stannis let his own breathing go slack once more, though now that he was looking at Davos as he had not since their first glimpse that morning, he could not make himself look away.
“I am glad to see you, sire,” Davos murmured to the air. “I did not dare hope that you would still be alive should I manage to return.”
Stannis laughed, once, low and yet with only a touch of bitterness. “And I thought you dead, for true this time.”
Davos turned his gaze to meet Stannis’s. Under the surface, he moved so that their legs once again brushed each other. A spark of heat entirely unrelated to the water shot up Stannis’s thigh and into his stomach.
“It will be true one day soon, sire. And impudent though it may be to say as such, I will be glad to do it in your service.”
“You deserve more,” Stannis told him, before he could think better. “If I have been cheated of what was owed me in this life, you have been robbed of double the peace I have. If I have had all my potential sons stolen by some cruel twist of the gods, you have lost true flesh and blood. At my command.”
Davos muffled a laugh against his mangled hand. “You’re supposed to say ‘thank you,’ sire, and promise me that my death and that of four of my sons shall not be in vain.”
“I wish I could, Lord Davos.”
Davos’s eyes were steady as he dropped his hands underwater. Stannis sat with his heart thudding and loosened his grip on the dirt behind him, sliding one hand back into the pool. He had mayhaps half a minute to breathe before something brushed his thigh again and his eyes fluttered shut.
“To know you are here is more of a delight than I had imagined, sire.” Davos’s voice trembled, the muscles in Stannis’s legs twitched beneath his touch, and yet neither man moved. “Forgive me; just to feel that you are real…”
His voice drifted into nothing; his fingertips burned Stannis’s thigh more strongly than the water itself, searing points of contact Stannis could not break. When Stannis spoke, his voice cracked.
“The bad hand.”
“Your hand,” Davos murmured, water sloshing as he shifted, and then the stumps Stannis himself had made were against Stannis’s own hand beneath the surface, and Stannis’s stomach fell deep into his bowels.
“As I said, the bad hand.”
Davos made a choked noise, and Stannis opened his eyes to watch as pinpricks of moisture trickled down Davos’s cheeks. The stumps closed more tightly around Stannis hand, massaging his palm, as Davos removed the other hand from Stannis’s thigh to wipe his cheek.
“You have brought me ill, sire. And yet you have brought me so very much good, enough that even now, with half of me preparing to die, I cannot complain.”
Stannis slid his other hand into the pool and reached out for Davos’s leg, biting back a grunt as he made contact and his heart twisted in his chest.
“I complain every day, Lord Davos, as well you know.”
“Indeed.” Davos’s stumps tightened their grip around Stannis’s hand, and Stannis held very still lest the moisture in his own eyes grow any worse. “I hope our deaths are worth it, Your Grace. I hope that when all unholy frozen terror comes down from the North we die in honor. I think we will.”
“Should we be so lucky,” Stannis said, his fingertips digging into the inside of Davos’s thigh. Davos shifted again, and Stannis froze.
“No,” Davos murmured, smiling, as he brought his legs to rest against Stannis’s and pressed the hand held within his bad one against the inside of his thigh. “You are right, Your Grace. If you want it, sire, it is yours.”
Sweat, from the pool and from whatever desperate, thick foolishness they were walking directly into, dripped between Stannis’s eyes.
“It isn’t an ‘it’ I want.”
“What do you want, sire?”
Stannis bit down on his chapped lips, cracking anew under the heat of the springs. He slid his hand further up Davos’s thigh and suppressed a noise as he brushed the still-soft tip of Davos’s cock.
Davos’s chest on his, as the water sloshed quietly around them, was rough and overwarm and so very present, far more grounding than the dirt Stannis had tried to bury his fingers in before, even as it set his blood rushing through his limbs. Floating in the middle of the pool, Stannis let himself sink down against Davos’s thighs as his hand continued groping at Davos’s cock and Davos wrapped his good hand around Stannis’s own member. Stannis’s mouth opened at the touch.
“Your Grace,” Davos whispered into his ear, pieces of his long, unkempt hair tickling the side of Stannis’s face. “Sire, may I—”
“Anything.” Stannis’s voice was half whisper and half grunt; Davos stroked the length of his cock until Stannis produced an aborted moan. “Just to see you, alive, Davos, for even a moment more—”
“I’m here.” Davos’s voice was enveloping him, along with the rising heat and steam ringing their bodies, and his grip tightened on his member as one finger slid down to brush Stannis’s balls. “As long as I have breath.”
Stannis’s own touch on Davos was weak, uncertain as he fingered Davos’s slit and felt Davos twist beneath him. “I’m sorry if it is not what you want; I don’t—”
Davos’s lips brushed Stannis’s neck.
“Your Grace. I am here. Let me.”
The water around them stripped Stannis’s cock of most of its natural moisture, making the calluses on Davos’s hand pull particularly hard, setting his skin ablaze with something very physically rough, in addition to the hazy desperation sinking over his mind. The twinges of pain made everything all the brighter, made Stannis’s breath come faster, burning the back of his throat with each curling stroke, each touch against his slit or his balls. Davos’s mouth worked at his shoulder and neck with equal precision, at first a ghostly touch scarce determinable from the steam around them, then growing wetter and firmer alongside Stannis’s member until Davos’s tongue was tickling Stannis’s skin.
“I am so happy.” Davos’s voice was a straight shot down Stannis’s back, raising the damp hair on his arms. “Just to feel you, to be with you; Your Grace, sire, I am so relieved I could cry. I did not know until I saw Winterfell just how much relief one man could feel, but I am sure I have had more than a lifetime’s fair share.”
Davos had moved so that his own member was out of Stannis’s reach; Stannis’s hands grasped, empty, at the eddies his underwater flexing created.
“I’m going to die here,” Stannis said, his voice thin. Davos stilled his hand and nuzzled Stannis’s throat, and Stannis closed his eyes against a film of tears. “You do not deserve this, Davos.”
The massaging of his balls was so very gentle, more almost than Stannis could stand, in harmony with the motion of Davos’s lips against the underside of Stannis’s chin and the haphazard beard he had let grow.
“You have done more than any liege could ever expect of a courtier. And still I need you here.” He took in a shuddering breath. “It is the most selfish thing I think I have ever felt, this dependence on a man who deserves more happiness than a grim king at the end of the world can give.”
Davos’s lips were scorching against Stannis’s own, indecently full considering the wasteland of starvation for leagues around them, incongruously reassuring despite the oncoming horrors of winter. He tasted of metallic water and musk that settled on Stannis’s tongue, bitter and yet welcome. Both his hands cupped Stannis’s face, massaged his overheated cheeks as Stannis grabbed Davos’s arse beneath the surface and sunk his fingers into the thin layers of flesh that had survived the journey from Skagos.
When they broke for air, Davos’s nose brushing Stannis’s, Stannis could feel the tears dripping down his face. Davos wiped them with his intact thumb, brushing Stannis’s lips as Stannis trembled.
“I need you,” Davos whispered, kissing Stannis once more as Stannis dug harder into his arse. “I need you here. When I am not yours, when I am not at your side, nothing in me is fully straight. Nothing in me has purpose. You raised me from nothing, my liege. And you are”—one hand slid back to the base of Stannis’s cock, and Stannis choked on a sob—”you are right. For me. For this moment in Westeros, if nothing else.”
It was silence then but for their muted gasps as Davos began stroking Stannis’s cock again and Stannis felt himself melting beneath his touch, his bones and muscles melding with the water. Heat rose in his loins and chest as Davos’s hand ran up and down his member, a buzzing along Stannis’s scalp growing until there was a final twist, a final brush of his balls; the edges of the world blurred, and he cried out against Davos’s neck until the shock dissipated.
Davos’s hands were back on his face as Stannis regained his breath and some of his mind, enough to notice that Davos’s cock was still full and wanting against their stomachs.
“I am a useless king here,” he admitted as Davos stroked his jawline back to his ear. “We are not taught how to make our subjects happy.”
Davos laughed against Stannis’s cheek, the vibrations distantly, pleasantly ticklish. “I can take my pleasure myself, sire.”
Stannis’s skin prickled. “I once saw—thighs?” He widened his stance and directed Davos’s bad hand to the space between his legs.
Davos’s hand tightened on Stannis’s skin. “Not in the water.”
Stannis pulled himself into a sitting position at the pool’s edge, his legs falling back into the water, and leaned on his arms as Davos, his member twitching, slid up against him.
“You are sure, sire?”
“Please.” Stannis’s throat worked around the lump he had been nursing in some capacity since he had first seen Davos Seaworth pass through the gates of Winterfell that morning. “Please, Davos.”
The weight of Davos’s cock against Stannis’s own was a ripple of warmth down his spine, a cry he could not suppress. Davos moved against him, slowly at first and then faster, his full member catching against Stannis’s limp one until he slid between Stannis’s thighs in full. His hands against Stannis’s hips were warm, each finger creating a sweet bruise against Stannis’s skin, and Stannis felt his thigh muscles ripple around Davos’s cock, gently spasming in time to the thrusts. When Davos came, gasping into the crook of Stannis’s arm, Stannis smiled.
“Davos, you are—” No adjective would come to mind, nothing that wasn’t some bit of foolery he could imagine in a song, nothing strong or certain enough for the need he felt for Davos’s grip, Davos’s guiding touch everywhere on him and in his thoughts. His heart turned over and over again in his chest, and he let it, let himself feel sorrow and relief mingled down to his marrow. He buried the fingers of one hand into Davos’s hair against his stomach and suppressed some mad, drunken laugh as Davos mouthed his navel. “You are. I cannot believe that I am so fortunate to have a Hand such as you, even here, so far beyond humanity, but I am and you are.”
They did not move for some time, until the water had evaporated from their skin and they were left shivering, naked, in a renewed burst of snow. Davos stood first, gathering their respective articles of clothing and dropping Stannis’s in his lap. As Stannis dressed with thick, clumsy fingers, Davos hurriedly pulled on his own breeches and shook the snow from his cloak.
Stannis’s cloak had been thickly furred, once, though now it was nearly as threadbare as Davos’s. It was nonetheless large enough for two men; as they headed through the snow toward the Great Keep, Stannis draped its folds over Davos as well as his own body, and they moved in silence across the deserted godswood and courtyard.
There were no guards outside the room Stannis had commandeered for his own; what eyes they still had amongst his men were needed outside. Stannis and Davos entered the room unseen, and Stannis bolted the door behind him as Davos turned to the half-ruined mattress and, at a nod from Stannis, slid onto it.
Stannis settled on the other side of the mattress; it had been some days since he had last slept here, and he could feel his eyes closing even despite the pleasure that spiked through his veins. His cloak he threw as a coverlet across them both, along with the battered furs that had come with the room, while Davos balled up his own cloak to use as a pillow.
They laid there blinking and settling in the dark for about two minutes before Davos’s bad hand brushed Stannis’s arm. Stannis interlaced his fingers with Davos’s stumps, then pulled him closer until their arms were touching all along their lengths, a strip of heat to ward against the drafts even Winterfell’s hot springs could not keep fully at bay.
“Thank you, Davos.”
Davos hummed and pressed his mouth against Stannis’s shoulder.
“Whatever you need.”
Stannis’s exhale rattled. “For whatever weeks or days we have left—you are enough.”
When he fell asleep, it was with a half-smile on his lips and Davos’s ruined hand in his.